There is bucolic tranquility in the sight of two horses dozing in the sun, side by side, nose to tail, with their tails rhythmically swishing as they leisurely work at keeping flies off their bodies. That is the basic purpose of the equine tail as designed by nature–keeping pesky insects at bay. That’s a pretty simple job, but the tail’s usefulness doesn’t end there. Man’s intervention through the years has made the horse’s tail a subject of controversy that has fostered a variety of rules and regulations in the show ring concerning what can and can’t be done with a tail to enhance a horse’s appearance.
Ironically, what is considered appropriate in the way of tails for one breed is completely inappropriate for another. The Saddlebred is the “Peacock of the Show Ring,” and as such a Saddlebred’s tail often undergoes a surgical process to present the “appropriate” look, which is a tail that arcs upward, then cascades down, often trailing to the ground.
The Quarter Horse exhibitor, on the other hand, wants a tail that lies dead and flat as the horse goes around the ring in a pleasure class, helping to create an image of docility and quiet manners.
Then, there is the Arabian, a horse that naturally holds its tail aloft, but has received some unpleasant assistance in achieving that special look by unscrupulous exhibitors.
These special desires on the part of owners and trainers have resulted in some abuses that breed registries and show officials have been battling for years.
The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) has entered the picture with its recommendation concerning docking of tails, something that has been quite common among draft show horses. Their position reads in part: “Tail docking in horses should only be performed when it is a medical necessity or when it is vital to ensuring the hor